Goodreads asked Margaret J. McMaster:
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Margaret J. McMaster Be a good editor. Let your manuscript marinate in a drawer for a few weeks then take another look, pencil in hand. So much will jump out at you. Why did I use that adverb when what I needed to do was strengthen the verb? Things like that. Every edit, and there will be many, should have a different purpose. Yes, there will be spelling and grammar mistakes to clean up but editing is much more than that. My first edit is a broad look at continuity and pacing. Is the story moving along where it should and slowing down where it should? Is there enough suspense to carry it along? Structure, structure, structure. It is so important. When I read another author's book, that's what I'm looking at. How was the book arranged to tell the story? What voice did the author use? Above all else, you want your story to be compelling, because if it's not, the best sentences in the world won't matter. One of the edits should focus entirely on spotting inconsistencies. I once finished a scene that relied on the characters all wearing coats, forgetting that I'd set it during the summer! Ouch! So, I had to make it rain, and those coats became raincoats! Ah, the all-powerful writer! Don't be afraid to use your power to move scenes around to heighten the drama. Mix it up. Make the reader work for it. If it's all: this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened ... well you're snoozing, aren't you? So is your reader. Let your characters do the heavy lifting. Their dialogue is much more important than a description of the setting or what they're wearing at the time. As soon as the words come out of your character's mouth the reader will visualize an individual in line with their own experience. To get better at writing dialogue, write a screenplay, just as a self-improvement exercise. And take your earbuds out when you're on the subway or in a restaurant. Yes, eavesdrop. You're a writer. It's your job to know how people talk. Lastly - and I could go on forever here - live your life. Take a notebook with you wherever you go. Ideas don't spring out of the computer screen. Get up and get out! Pretty soon a theme will come to mind. Write it down. Now, be prepared for the characters to show up. As soon as you can hear them talking to each other, get on that computer! And just when they're all feeling comfortable and safe, throw in a mind-blowing situation that has to be dealt with if disaster is going to be averted. Watch how the characters react. Are you writing it down? Good. That book is going to be finished in no time!